A Penitent Blogger

Mindful of my imperfections, seeking to know Truth more deeply and to live Love more fully.

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus? Quem patronum rogaturus? Cum vix iustus sit securus?
Recordare, Iesu pie, Quod sum causa tuae viae: Ne me perdas illa die...

Tuesday, January 31, 2006


On the day when the United States and many elsewhere mourn the death of Coretta Scott King, the first reading (from 2 Samuel 18 & 19) presents us with the heartbreaking grief of King David as he learns of the death of his son Absalom.

And the king was much moved,
and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept:
and as he went, thus he said,
O my son Absalom,
my son, my son Absalom!
would God I had died for thee,
O Absalom, my son, my son!


In times of death, there are often people who tell us not to cry.

There are some who would have told David not to cry, because Absalom was a bad son who had been trying to kill him.

But there was more to Absalom and his life than that foolish, fatal campaign against his father and David his father remembered that.

Absalom may have tried to destroy his father, but his father always remembered him as that little child he once held so long in his arms.

And so David wept.

David did not forget the bad things Absalom did, but it was right for David to mourn all the good that Absalom was and the good that might have been.

So too we, whenever we learn of someone’s death, we may not be simplistic in our reactions. Even if someone “deserved it,” we can mourn whatever good there had been in that person and mourn the good that should have been – without implicitly endorsing the imperfections that person may have had or the evil that person may have done.


At other times of death, there are people who tell us not to cry because the dead person “is in a better place” or because the person is “with the Lord.” A few might even say that mourning the death of a person who was good, holy, and full of years is contrary to our Christian faith in resurrection and eternal life.

The answer to this is found in the shortest verse of the Bible (John 11:35):

Jesus wept.

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, wept.

Our Lord knew that he would restore Lazarus to life. He had just said as much to Martha in those simple, powerful and famous words (v. 25):

I am the resurrection, and the life:
he that believeth in me,
though he were dead,
yet shall he live.

Yet Jesus wept.

And then he called Lazarus forth from the grave.

The lesson is clear: it is not a denial of Christian faith to weep in the wake of death.

Our faith in resurrection and eternal life through Christ is sure and certain, yet there is a real sense of brokenness and disruption even in the “happiest” death. It is a parting, even if it is only for a little while.

And so it is good to grieve.

That is not to say that we should dwell long in grief. David went on with his life and our Lord turned the experience of Lazarus’ death into one of the greatest demonstration of his glory and power.

And so we too must go on: never afraid to walk fully in the shadow of the valley of death when those times come, but always going forward in Christ – in faith, love, service, and gloriously joyful hope.

Catholic Carnival

This week's Catholic Carnival - a collection of posts from various Catholic blogs - is online at DeoOmniGloria.com.

Prayer for Vocations

from the website of the Archdiocese of Miami

Coretta Scott King

Coretta Scott King, widow of slain civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr, has died from complications following a stroke.

Requiescat in pace.

UPDATE: It was subsequently revealed that Mrs. King, who had suffered "debilitating stroke and heart attack (last) August", died in "an alternative medicine clinic in Mexico" where she had sought treatment for ovarian cancer. (Source: The Washington Post)

His "terrible twos" were terrible indeed

for that was when John’s father died.

John would have to work to help support his family while still a boy. The family’s parish priest, however, made sure that John received an education.

It was no surprise, then, that John eventually entered the seminary and still kept working even during his years of study.

During his first assignment, John visited the local prisons and was heartbroken to see so many boys incarcerated, seemingly written off by society. Sometime later, he overheard a sacristan beating a boy off the street who wasn’t capable of serving Mass. He rebuked the sacristan and let the boy go free. The boy came back, bringing other homeless boys with him who needed education, prayer, and kindness. Soon, there were hundreds of them.

Some people thought John was crazy (literally!) but eventually both church and civic leaders saw the value of the work he was doing and supported it. Nearly fifty years after rescuing that first young man, approximately 130,000 children were being cared for by John and his coworkers, in houses dedicated to Mary Help of Christians and St. Francis de Sales.

St. John Bosco, founder of Society of Saint Francis de Sales (who later renamed themselves the Salesians of Don Bosco), died on this very day one hundred and seventeen years ago. He was canonized in 1934.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Monday, January 30, 2006

2006 Catholic Blog Awards Nominations

Nominations for the 2006 Catholic Blog Awards are OPEN at www.catholicblogawards.com

The Categories are:
Most Informative Blog
Most Humorous Blog
Most Bizarre Blog Entry
Best Presentation
Most Devotional
Best Blog by a Group
Best Blog by a Man
Best Blog by a Woman
Most Insightful Blog
Most Theological Blog
Best Blog by a Priest or Religious
Best Blog by a Seminarian
Best Political Analysis
Best Apologetics Blog
Most Intellectual Blog
Best Blog Design
Best New Blog
Best Social Commentary Blog

The Insulters

The Church often takes a beating in the media, in the blogsphere, and in other places. Church institutions are attacked, Church leaders accused, Church members ridiculed, and Church teachings mocked – even by people who profess to be members of the Church.

The natural reaction of many Church members is often like the impulse voiced by Abishai son of Zeruiah, in today’s first reading (from 2 Samuel 15 & 16):

Let me go over, please,
and lop off his head.

Excommunicate, boycott, flame, outvote, or insult them back harder – do whatever you have to do to get them.

It is a natural reaction.

But it is rarely the appropriate Christian reaction.

To be sure, the Church, its teachings, and its people must be defended, but both charity and justice require us to avoid overreaction or disproportionate responses.

Indeed, even King David in today’s reading (who is the one being insulted, verbally abused, and physically assaulted) calls for restraint and perspective.

“What business is it of mine or of yours,
sons of Zeruiah, that he curses?
Suppose the LORD has told him to curse David;
who then will dare to say, ‘Why are you doing this?’”

Then the king said to Abishai and to all his servants:
“If my own son, who came forth from my loins,

is seeking my life,
how much more might this Benjaminite do so?
Let him alone and let him curse,
for the LORD has told him to.
Perhaps the LORD will look upon my affliction
and make it up to me with benefits
for the curses he is uttering this day.”

David and his men continued on the road,
while Shimei kept abreast of them on the hillside,
all the while cursing

and throwing stones and dirt as he went.

Even though David would later slip back into “pay back” mode (1 Kings 2:8-9), the insights he expresses here are important for us to consider in our own situation – as members of the Church and even as individuals.

First, it is always most important that we remain focused on what the Lord wants us to do, not on what other people are doing. As followers of Christ, it is generally best that we be more proactive for the good than reactive to the bad.

Second, we must keep everything in perspective. Some criticism may have some truth in it and we should never close our minds to truth. However, while we must always accept truth and base our actions on truth, it must be the whole truth and nothing but the truth – not just isolated facts and “spin.”

Third, while we must defend what is of God, we must remember that the Lord often calls us –especially as individuals - to be afflicted and despised, as he was, so that we may someday share in his glory.

Blessed are you when they insult you
and persecute you
and utter every kind of evil against you (falsely)
because of me.
Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward will be great in heaven.

(Matthew 5:11-12)

Sunday, January 29, 2006


In today’s second reading (1 Corinthians 7:32-35), St. Paul strongly encourages celibacy.

This was not a popular concept at that time and it is definitely not popular today.

There are bad reasons for celibacy’s unpopularity (selfishness, fixation on pleasure, moral weakness) but there are also other reasons – one of which was expressed quite beautifully by the Holy Father in his encyclical this week:

"(Man) is somehow incomplete, driven by nature to seek in another the part that can make him whole, the idea that only in communion with the opposite sex can he become 'complete'. The biblical account thus concludes with a prophecy about Adam: 'Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh' (Gen 2:24).

"Two aspects of this are important. First,
eros is somehow rooted in man's very nature; Adam is a seeker, who 'abandons his mother and father' in order to find woman; only together do the two represent complete humanity and become 'one flesh'. The second aspect is equally important. From the standpoint of creation, eros directs man towards marriage, to a bond that is unique and definitive; thus, and only thus, does it fulfill its deepest purpose."
Deus caritas est
, 11 (excerpt)

The Holy Father does not specify here how this reality is to be lived out fully by those who cannot marry, including the celibate, but he gives us a direction by writing of the love and union between God and man.

"(Man) can indeed enter into union with God—his primordial aspiration. But this union is no mere fusion, a sinking in the nameless ocean of the Divine; it is a unity which creates love, a unity in which both God and man remain themselves and yet become fully one."
Deus caritas est, 10

We see this manifested most strikingly in the writings of the Saints, most famously St. Teresa of Avila, who writes of her spiritual encounters with God “using boldly erotic imagery” (to borrow the Holy Father’s phrase – cf, Deus caritas est, 9). Indeed, many who consecrate themselves to the Lord in vows of chastity explicitly identify themselves as “spouses of Christ.”

Those who are married, of course, are also called to mystical union with the Lord, but just as there are special gifts and burdens associated with marriage, so also are there special burdens and special gifts associated with celibacy – gifts that benefit not just the celibate, but the entire Church.

The celibate may have, as St. Paul says in today’s reading, the gift of “adherence to the Lord without distraction,” but the presence of graced celibates in the world is a gift for all of us: a unique and bold proclamation of that mystical union with God to which we are all called.

The presence of graced celibates in the world is also a unique and bold proclamation against the way of the world that turns eros and thus human beings into commodities (cf Deus caritas est, 5).

We are not commodities. We are children of God – created for and called to real love, in this world and in the next – something far greater and freer than the limited thrills that the world offers (thrills that come with hidden costs).

Graced celibates are a sign and a reality therefore that the world today desperately needs.

This kind of celibacy, of course, cannot be gained by strength of will alone: it is a special gift of God.

We need to pray for a greater pouring out of that gift among us: that many more young men and women may hear the call to celibacy and to vowed chastity in the service of the Lord.

We need to pray and we also need to encourage.

We also need to support men and women who are already committed to that life.

We must not let ourselves be stopped by the public and grievous failures we have seen far too often. Abuse of the gift by some does not take away its value – it only increases the need for a greater and more perfect manifestation of that gift among us by the grace of God.

Nor does celibacy denigrate marriage or the devout single life – quite the opposite: the power of graced celibacy as a sign and instrument of union with God strengthens all of us – whatever our state in life may be – for we are all called to mystical union with the Lord.

Graced celibacy is a powerful sign and a precious, wonderful gift.

All of us need to do whatever we can to make that gift a greater reality for the sake of the Church, for the sake of the world, and for the sake of each one of us.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

You are the man

We can all be moralistic spectators sometimes: people who sit back and denounce the evil we see.

It is easy for us to do that when we have dedicated ourselves to God and have educated ourselves in what is right and what is wrong.

King David does the same in today’s first reading (2 Samuel 12:1-7a, 10-17).

He of course has a very special relationship with God and knows much of God’s ways, so he would seem even better qualified to denounce the man in the story.

Then Nathan said to David:
You are the man!

In saying “You are the man” Nathan, of course, is not acclaiming David’s greatness in the way some use that phrase today (or its abbreviated form: “You da man”).

He means that the man whom David had denounced is really David himself.

So too God may say to us when we denounce someone who is a sinner.

You are the man!

You are that sinner.

(Miserere mei, Domine)

It is easy to see the sins and faults of others, but it is a matter of life and death that in doing so we do not overlook our own.

It is likewise easy to quickly assume that a particular denunciation or warning in Scripture does not apply to us (because of different circumstances, yadda yadda yadda), but we always run the deadly serious risk of overlooking the elements that apply to us.

You are the man!

This is not to say that we should not be honest about evil or that we should not try to help people turn from evil to good.

We are all imperfect, but we must all be honest and must all seek the good (which ultimately comes through faith in Jesus Christ).

Our imperfections do not excuse us from our duty to walk toward perfection while helping others advance along the same path in Christ.

The work of God on this earth is not the task only of the man who is sinless, but also of the man who, through the grace of Christ, faithfully struggles

And you are the man!

When he was 5, his parents sent him away

Why? Partly for his education, partly because of his parents’ ambition, and also perhaps partly out of guilt.

Then, when he went to college, the young man rejected the plans of his rich, ambitious parents and joined a new religious group of panhandlers.

His parents had him kidnapped and attempted to “deprogram” him. After a couple of years, they gave up. He went back to college and his religious “family” of beggars.

He eventually got a teaching position and his entire life became devoted to teaching, writing, and praying.

Then suddenly, one day in his late forties, he gave up everything except prayer. He died the next year.

In his relatively short life, however, the little rich boy turned beggar and teacher had already made quite a name for himself. Kings and Popes had sought his advice, so great was his reputation for wisdom. Even in death, religious orders fought over his body, so great was his reputation for holiness.

The body of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, perhaps the greatest of all Christian theologians and philosophers, was finally interred in a church belonging to his fellow Dominicans on this very day in 1369, 94 years after his death and 42 years after his canonization.

(Adapted from an earlier post)

Click here for more about St. Thomas' writings
and here for information about Dominican vocations.

Friday, January 27, 2006

"Because I could"

He was the nation’s leader and when he saw a particular woman he thought attractive, he had her brought in and he bedded her.

Then followed the cover-up, the abuse of power, and the death of a loyal soldier.

Why would he do it?

The most obvious answer to the scandal in today’s first reading (from 2 Samuel 11) can be found in another national leader's explanation of his own sex scandal thousands of years later:

“I think I did something for the worst possible reason -- just because I could.”

You and I are likely never to be as famous and powerful as Bill Clinton or King David, but we are certainly subject to the same basic temptation: to realize that we can do something and can probably get away with it.

Of course, we can never “get away with it” – for all sin is an offense against God, who sees everything.

Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion

wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me.

Both of her parents were dead...

...bythe time Angela was ten. Not long after that, her older sister died suddenly.

Angela was already one of those little girls who seemed to have been born devout, but now she redoubled the intensity of her devotions. At age 15, she formally associated herself with the Franciscans as a tertiary.

Angela had already seen many of the bad things of the world. She resolved to do what she could to make the world a better place. She felt the best way for her to do this was to ensure that little girls were properly educated in the faith so that, as wives and mothers, they could form stronger Christian families, which would in turn improve society.

When she was only 20, she started a school in her own house. She was so successful that she was asked to open another school in a neighboring city.

One of her lifelong goals was to see the Holy Land. About the time she was 50, she had the opportunity to go on a pilgrimage. On the way, however, she was struck blind. She continued with the pilgrimage anyway. On her way back home, her vision returned while she was at prayer. Far from being disappointed, she experienced an even deeper devotion to the Lord.

About ten years later, she chose 12 young women to join her in a new community of devotion to the Lord and dedication to the education of girls. The community would grow and spread across the world.

St. Angela Merici, foundress of the Ursuline Sisters, died on this very day in 1540 in Brescia, Italy. She was canonized in 1807.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Thursday, January 26, 2006

We seek God

Benediction on September 27, 2005 at St. Emma Monastery by Father Jonathan Wisnieski,Vocation Director of the Diocese of Greensburg using monstrance blessed by the great Pope John Paul II"Our Benedictine monastic vocation is centered in the monastery.

"We seek God
in prayer,
in work, and
in community.

"Daily Mass and The Liturgy of the Hours provides the framework around which our day evolves. This communal praise of God is our most important task. The Liturgy of the Hours (or Divine Office) is sung six times a day in English using simplified Gregorian chant melodies. Lectio divina (sacred reading), personal prayer and an atmosphere of silence are also essential elements of our life of prayer.

"By our work we also glorify God. St. Benedict exhorts us to see 'the tools of the monastery as sacred vessels of the altar.' Providing hospitality for those seeking to deepen their relationship with God, we welcome retreatants and visitors. This hospitality and the needs of the community provides many opportunities for each Sister to utilize various "tools" in the monastery itself, the garden, and the gift and book shop, kitchen, dining room, etc. We are blessed to have a wonderful group of volunteers who generously assist us in our various labors.

"Our small community is family-like for here the young and the old, people of varying personalities, abilities and skills, live, pray and work together. Stability marks our life for we enter and live out our monastic life here.

The Discernment Process:

"Single women (ages of 18-40) speak with our Prioress, Mother Mary Anne, and then come to visit the community. These first visits provide a glimpse of what our life is like and offer both sides to get to know one another. At each stage of the process, both the community and the individual discern whether or not God is calling the woman to our monastic community."

from the website of
St. Emma Monastery,
Greensburg, Pennsylvania

My child

In both of the selections available for today’s first reading (2 Timothy 1:1-8 and Titus 1:1-5), St. Paul refers to the respective addressee – Timothy or Titus – as “my child.”

He is not calling them or treating them like children in any negative sense. Rather he is expressing the love and the deep feeling of care he has for these two people whose faith he has helped grow and who are now his coworkers in the faith.

May each of us
have that same love and deep feeling of care
for those with whom we share our faith
and those with whom we labor for the faith
in the name of Jesus.

Timothy and Titus

Today is the memorial of Saints Timothy and Titus, bishops and apostolic men, coworkers of the great Apostle Saint Paul who wrote letters to each of them that are preserved in the New Testament canon.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Christian Carnival

This week's Christian Carnival - an ecumenical collection of posts from various Christian blogs - is online at Techno-gypsy.

Suspicion, prudence and charity

In today’s first reading (Acts 9:1-22 - cf Acts 22:3-16), a man comes to the aid of someone who had been “breathing murderous threats,” who had done “evil things” to people like him, and who had come to town precisely to do the same things there.

This becomes part of one of the most important turning points of history: the conversion of Saint Paul, who would be God’s special instrument for bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the non-Jewish world.

It is also an important reminder to us in our own lives.

The world is a scary place and there are many people who wish us ill – even those who wish to kill us.

We must certainly be prudent, and exceedingly so when we have a solemn obligation to protect others, but we must never let suspicion and fear stop us from carrying out the mandate of Christ: to preach the Gospel to every creature, to love our enemies and to pray for our persecutors.

We must always be prudent and we must always be Christians.

Summary of New Encyclical

Here is the Vatican Information Service's summary of the Holy Father's new Encyclical Deus Caritas Est ("God is Love"):

the actual text of the encyclical, of course, is STRONGLY recommended.)

"Dated December 25, Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, [the Encyclical] considers the question of Christian love.

"The Encyclical is divided into two long parts. The first, entitled, 'The Unity of Love in Creation and in Salvation History,' presents a theological-philosophical reflection on "love" in its various dimensions - eros, philia, and agape - highlighting certain vital aspects of God's love for man and the inherent links that such love has with human love. The second part, entitled 'The Practice of Love by the Church as a "Community of Love",' concerns the concrete implementation of the commandment to love others.


"The term 'love' - one of the most used, and abused, words in today's world - has a vast field of meaning. In this multiplicity of meanings, however, the archetype of love par excellence that emerges is that between man and woman, which in ancient Greece was given the name of eros. In the Bible, and above all in the New Testament, the concept of 'love' is rendered more profound, a development expressed by the rejection of the word eros in favor of the term agape to express [oblative] love.

"This new view of love, an essential novelty of Christianity, has not infrequently been considered in a completely negative sense as the refusal of eros and of all things corporeal. Although there have been tendencies of this nature, the meaning of this development is quite different. Eros, placed in the nature of man by his Creator, needs discipline, purification and maturity in order not to lose its original dignity, and not be degraded to the level of being pure 'sex,' becoming a mere commodity.

"The Christian faith has always considered man as a being in whom spirit and matter are mutually intertwined, drawing from this a new nobility. The challenge of eros may be said to have been overcome when man's body and soul are in perfect harmony. Then love truly becomes 'ecstasy,' but not ecstasy in the sense of a passing moment of euphoria, but as a permanent departure from the ' I ' closed within itself towards freedom in the giving of self and, precisely in this way, towards the rediscovery of self, or rather, towards the discovery of God. In this way, eros can raise the human being 'in ecstasy' towards the Divine.

"Ultimately what is necessary is that eros and agape never be completely separated from one another; indeed, the greater the extent to which the two - though in different dimensions - find their right equilibrium, the more the true nature of love is realized. Although initially eros is, above all, desire, in approaching the other person it will ask ever fewer questions about itself and seek ever more happiness in the other, it will give itself and desire to 'be there' for the other. Thus the one becomes part of the other and the moment of agape is achieved.

"In Jesus Christ, Who is the incarnate love of God, eros-agape achieves its most radical form. In His death on the cross, Jesus, giving Himself to raise and save mankind, expressed love in its most sublime form. Jesus ensured a lasting presence for this act of giving through the institution of the Eucharist, in which, under the species of bread and wine, He gives Himself as a new manna uniting us to Him. By participating in the Eucharist, we too become involved in the dynamics of His act of giving. We unite ourselves to Him, and at the same time unite ourselves with everyone else to whom He gives Himself. Thus we all become 'a single body.' In this way, love for God and love for others are truly fused together. The dual commandment, thanks to this encounter with the agape of God, is no longer just a requirement: love can be 'commanded,' because first it was given.


"Love for others rooted in the love of God, in addition to being the duty of each individual faithful, is also the duty of the entire ecclesial community, which in its charitable activities must reflect Trinitarian love. An awareness of this duty has been of fundamental importance in the Church ever since her beginnings; and very soon the need became clear for a certain degree of organization as a basis for a more effective realization of those activities.

"Thus, within the fundamental structure of the Church, [diakonia] emerged as a service of love towards others, a love exercised collectively and in an ordered fashion: a concrete service, but at the same time a spiritual one. With the progressive growth of the Church, the practice of charity was confirmed as being one of her essential aspects. The Church's intimate nature is thus expressed in a triple duty: announcing the Word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the Sacraments (leiturgia), and the service of charity (diakonia). These duties are inherent to one another and cannot be separated.

"Beginning in the nineteenth century, a fundamental objection was raised against the Church's charitable activity. Such activity, it was said, runs counter to justice and ends up by preserving the status quo. By carrying out individual acts of charity, the reasoning went, the Church favors the preservation of the existing unjust system, making it in some way bearable and thus hindering rebellion and potential transformation to a better world.

"In this way, Marxism sought to indicate in world revolution, and in the preparations for such revolution, a panacea for social ills; a dream that has since been shattered. (The Papal) Magisterium - beginning with Leo XIII's Encyclical Rerum novarum (1891), and later with John Paul II's three social Encyclicals: Laborem exercens (1981), Sollicitudo rei socialis (1987), and Centesimus annus (1991) - has considered the social question with growing attention and, in facing ever new problems, has developed a highly complex social doctrine, proposing guidelines that are valid well beyond the confines of the Church.

"The creation of a just order in society and the State is the primary duty of politics, and therefore cannot be the immediate task of the Church. Catholic social doctrine does not want to give the Church power over the State, but simply to purify and illuminate reason, offering its own contribution to the formation of consciences so that the true requirements of justice may be perceived, recognized and put into effect. Nonetheless, there is no State legislation, however just it may be, that can make the service of love superfluous. The State that wishes to provide for everything becomes a bureaucratic machine, incapable of ensuring that essential contribution of which suffering man - all mankind - has need: loving personal dedication. Whoever wants to dispose of love, seeks to dispose of man.

"In our own time, one positive collateral effect of globalization appears in the fact that concern for others, overcoming the confines of national communities, tends to broaden the horizons of the whole world. Structures of State and humanitarian associations both support, in various ways, the solidarity expressed by civil society; thus, many charitable and philanthropic organizations have come into being. In the Catholic Church too, as in other ecclesial communities, new forms of charitable activity have arisen. It is to be hoped that fruitful collaboration may be established between these various elements. Of course, it is important that the Church's charitable work does not lose its own identity, lost against the background of widespread organized charity of which it is simply another alternative. Rather it must maintain all the splendor of the essence of Christian and ecclesial charity. Therefore:
  • "Christian charitable activity, apart from its professional competence, must be based on the experience of a personal encounter with Christ, Whose love touched believers' hearts, generating within them love for others.
  • "Christian charitable activity must be independent of parties and ideologies. The program of Christians - the program of the Good Samaritan, the program of Jesus - is a 'heart that sees.' This heart sees where there is need of love and acts accordingly.
  • "Christian charitable activity, furthermore, must not be a function of that which today is called proselytism. Love is gratuitous, it is not exercised in order to achieve other goals. However, this does not mean that charitable activity must, so to say, leave God and Christ on one side. Christians know when the time is right to speak of God, and when it is right to be silent and let love alone speak. St. Paul's hymn of charity must be the 'Magna Carta' for the entire ecclesial service, protecting it from the risk of degrading into mere activism.

"In this context, and faced with the impending secularism that also risks conditioning many Christians committed to charitable work, we must reaffirm the importance of prayer. Living contact with Christ ensures that the immensity of need coupled with the limits of individual activity do not, on the one hand, push charity workers into ideologies that seek to do now that which God, apparently, does not manage to do or, on the other, serve as a temptation to surrender to inertia and resignation. Those who pray do not waste their time, although a situation may seem to call only for action, nor do they seek to change and correct God's plan. Rather they aim - following the example of Mary and the saints - to draw from God the light and the strength of love that defeats all the darkness and selfishness present in the world."

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

"As we conclude today the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we remember that the healing of divisions among Christians is the Lord’s work, it is his gift, for which we must pray constantly."

Pope Benedict VXI
at today's Angelus

The Conversion of St. Paul

'The Conversion of St. Paul' by Caravaggio - Santa Maria del Popolo (Rome)
And I fell unto the ground,
and heard a voice saying unto me,
Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?

And I answered, Who art thou, Lord?

And he said unto me,
I am Jesus of Nazareth,
whom thou persecutest.

(And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me.)

And I said,
What shall I do, Lord?

And the Lord said unto me,
Arise, and go into Damascus;
and there it shall be told thee of all things
which are appointed for thee to do.
Acts 22:7-10

(adapted from an earlier post)

Deus Caritas Est

Deus Caritas Est ("God is Love"), the first encyclical of the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI is now available online at the Vatican website.


Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Home schooling, vocations, etc.

Bishop Kevin Rhoades, Bishop of Harrisburg, had a great homily Saturday at a Mass for Home School Families:

"For years I have been impressed by the faith, dedication, and commitment of Catholic home school families. Since becoming bishop, I have continued to be edified by home school families throughout our diocese. And today I am happy to celebrate Mass with you here at the Cardinal Keeler Center.

"I consider the growing movement of Catholic home schoolers as complementary to our Catholic schools and a sign of the vitality of the Church today. Parents committed to their vocations as catechists of their own children have a tremendous influence on their faith formation. You help your children to know and love the Lord Jesus, to place Him at the center of their lives and to make your family truly 'a domestic Church.' I wish to thank you for your dedication to the holy mission of evangelization and catechesis in the home.

"I expect that in the future I will see more and more priestly and religious vocations coming from our home school families. Families of faith are the seedbed of vocations in the Church.

"Perhaps, because of your counter-cultural choices, you have felt a little like Jesus in today’s Gospel. Our Lord’s relatives said Jesus was out of his mind. You have probably heard some criticism from others because of your commitment to the faith and to home-schooling. Jesus’ relatives, like many people today, were too worldly minded. They regarded Jesus’ total commitment to building the kingdom as excessive. People thought Jesus insane for His complete dedication to His mission from the Father and for his lifestyle: His poverty, His celibate chastity, His life of prayer and loving service. Many who follow Jesus’ example – think for example of many saints – have been taken for madmen. They were 'mad' in a sense.

"Saint Paul called himself 'a fool for Christ.' Saint Francis considered himself 'God’s troubadour.' The saints were insane – insane with love for Jesus Christ and His Church.

"One of these great saints crazy with love for Jesus was the virgin and martyr Saint Agnes, whose feast we celebrate today. Her contemporaries surely thought she was crazy. In the materialistic and decadent Roman culture of the late third century, a culture not so unlike our own, Agnes, born of a wealthy Roman family, and known for her physical beauty, resolved as a young girl to live a life of purity, consecrating her virginity to God. Like Jesus’ relatives said of Jesus: 'He is out of his mind,' Agnes’ relatives probably said the same about her. One of the young men attracted to her beauty and upset that she rebuffed his advances, reported her as a Christian to the authorities. She was arrested and confined to a house of prostitution. Still, even when threatened with torture, she was not intimidated. She retained her purity. She suffered martyrdom, most likely beheaded, at the young age of 12 or 13. Popular devotion to her quickly grew and Constantine’s daughter had a basilica built in honor of Saint Agnes over the catacombs where she was buried.

"I say to all the children and young people here, holiness doesn’t depend on length of years. There are many young saints like Agnes. Holiness is a gift that God offered to Agnes and offers to you and to me. Just think of young Agnes’ great courage – it seems to surpass our human nature. But the Holy Spirit was with her. God gave her the grace to be chaste, to be courageous, to be faithful, to be a virgin and a martyr. May her prayers help you to imitate her virtues in a culture not that unlike late 3rd century Roman culture. Agnes’ external beauty was one thing. Her internal – her beautiful soul – was something else. And that’s what really matters.

Bishop Kevin Rhoades - undated picture"Even if others think we’re crazy for wanting to follow Jesus and to be faithful to the virtues of the Gospel, we can take heart that many thought the same about the saints and about Jesus Himself.

"May we never be afraid to be fools for Christ!"

Most Reverend Kevin C. Rhoades
Bishop of Harrisburg

(from the website of the Diocese of Harrisburg)

With all his might

In today’s first reading (from 2 Samuel 6), King David has the Ark of the Covenant brought to Jerusalem with great ceremony

And David danced before the LORD with all his might

This is not necessarily an endorsement of liturgical dance – not all of us are culturally or personally well-matched for dancing as a form of expression.

But in his dance David gives all of us an example we can and must follow, for he dances “before the LORD with all his might.”

Too many of us are lukewarm in our actions and expressions of worship.

We move lethargically – if at all.
We sing quietly – if at all.
We respond or recite in mumbles – if at all.
We pay attention sporadically – if at all.
We focus on the presence of God halfheartedly – if at all.

So then because thou art lukewarm,
and neither cold nor hot,
I will spew thee out of my mouth.
Revelation 3:16

That is not to say that we should have a no-holds-barred free-for-all when we gather for church (as St. Paul says, “Let all things be done decently and in order.” - 1 Corinthians 14:40).

But whatever appropriate forms of expression our cultures may have and whatever order our communities of faith may observe, today’s first reading invites us - and the Lord Jesus calls us - to rouse ourselves and to worship the Lord with all our might.

Catholic Carnival

After a brief hiatus, the Catholic Carnival - a weekly collection of posts from various Catholic blogs - has returned and can be found this week at LivingCatholicism.com.

B16 on World Communications Day

The Media:
A Network for Communication, Communion and Cooperation

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,

"1. In the wake of the fortieth-anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, I am happy to recall its Decree on the Means of Social Communication, Inter Mirifica, which in particular recognized the power of the media to influence the whole of human society. The need to harness that power for the benefit of all mankind has prompted me, in this my first message for World Communications Day, to reflect briefly on the idea of the media as a network facilitating communication, communion, and cooperation.

"Saint Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, vividly depicts our human vocation to be 'sharers in the divine nature' (Dei Verbum, 2): through Christ we have access in one Spirit to the Father; so we are no longer strangers and aliens but citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, growing into a holy temple, a dwelling place for God (cf. Eph 2:18-22). This sublime portrayal of a life of communion engages all aspects of our lives as Christians. The call to be true to the self-communication of God in Christ is in fact a call to recognize his dynamic force within us, which then seeks to spread outwards to others, so that his love can truly become the prevalent measure of the world (cf. Homily for World Youth Day, Cologne, 21 August 2005).

"2. Technological advances in the media have in certain respects conquered time and space, making communication between people, even when separated by vast distances, both instantaneous and direct. This development presents an enormous potential for service of the common good and 'constitutes a patrimony to safeguard and promote' (Rapid Development, 10). Yet, as we all know, our world is far from perfect. Daily we are reminded that immediacy of communication does not necessarily translate into the building of cooperation and communion in society.

"To inform the consciences of individuals and help shape their thinking is never a neutral task. Authentic communication demands principled courage and resolve. It requires a determination of those working in the media not to wilt under the weight of so much information nor even to be content with partial or provisional truths. Instead it necessitates both seeking and transmitting what is the ultimate foundation and meaning of human, personal and social existence (cf. Fides et Ratio, 5). In this way the media can contribute constructively to the propagation of all that is good and true.

"3. The call for today's media to be responsible - to be the protagonist of truth and promoter of the peace that ensues - carries with it a number of challenges. While the various instruments of social communication facilitate the exchange of information, ideas, and mutual understanding among groups, they are also tainted by ambiguity.

"Alongside the provision of a 'great round table' for dialogue, certain tendencies within the media engender a kind of monoculture that dims creative genius, deflates the subtlety of complex thought and undervalues the specificity of cultural practices and the particularity of religious belief. These are distortions that occur when the media industry becomes self-serving or solely profit-driven, losing the sense of accountability to the common good.

"Accurate reporting of events, full explanation of matters of public concern, and fair representation of diverse points of view must, then, always be fostered. The need to uphold and support marriage and family life is of particular importance, precisely because it pertains to the foundation of every culture and society (cf. Apostolicam Actuositatem, 11). In cooperation with parents, the social communications and entertainment industries can assist in the difficult but sublimely satisfying vocation of bringing up children, through presenting edifying models of human life and love (cf. Inter Mirifica, 11). How disheartening and destructive it is to us all when the opposite occurs. Do not our hearts cry out, most especially, when our young people are subjected to debased or false expressions of love which ridicule the God-given dignity of every human person and undermine family interests?

"4. To encourage both a constructive presence and a positive perception of the media in society, I wish to reiterate the importance of three steps, identified by my venerable predecessor Pope John Paul II, necessary for their service of the common good: formation, participation, and dialogue (cf. Rapid Development, 11).

"Formation in the responsible and critical use of the media helps people to use them intelligently and appropriately. The profound impact upon the mind of new vocabulary and of images, which the electronic media in particular so easily introduce into society, cannot be overestimated. Precisely because contemporary media shape popular culture, they themselves must overcome any temptation to manipulate, especially the young, and instead pursue the desire to form and serve. In this way they protect rather than erode the fabric of a civil society worthy of the human person.

"Participation in the mass media arises from their nature as a good destined for all people. As a public service, social communication requires a spirit of cooperation and co-responsibility with vigorous accountability of the use of public resources and the performance of roles of public trust (cf. Ethics in Communications, 20), including recourse to regulatory standards and other measures or structures designed to effect this goal.

"Finally, the promotion of dialogue through the exchange of learning, the expression of solidarity and the espousal of peace presents a great opportunity for the mass media which must be recognized and exercised. In this way they become influential and appreciated resources for building the civilization of love for which all peoples yearn.

"I am confident that serious efforts to promote these three steps will assist the media to develop soundly as a network of communication, communion and cooperation, helping men, women and children, to become more aware of the dignity of the human person, more responsible, and more open to others especially the neediest and the weakest members of society (cf. Redemptor Hominis, 15; Ethics in Communications, 4).

"In conclusion, I return to the encouraging words of Saint Paul: Christ is our peace. In him we are one (cf. Eph 2:14). Let us together break down the dividing walls of hostility and build up the communion of love according to the designs of the Creator made known through his Son!

"From the Vatican, 24 January 2006, the Feast of Saint Francis de Sales."


In a less ecumenical time

Sadly, at different times and places, the relationship between Protestants and Catholics has been a highly belligerent one – sometimes literally!

For example, a fellow by the name of Claude Granier was bishop of a region where Catholic-Protestant relations were very often violent. In parts of his diocese, Catholic worship had been actually outlawed and churches were destroyed or taken over.

When the laws were changed in one of those parts of his diocese, the bishop decided to send there a priest by the name of Father Francis who had been ordained only recently. Father Francis would be physically attacked a number of times and beaten, yet he would persevere with great gentleness, compassion, and success.

Before long, Bishop Granier wanted to make Father Francis his successor. It took a long time for the humble priest to agree, but when the bishop died, Father Francis became the new bishop at the age of 35.

His reputation spread widely and he was invited by religious and secular leaders to preach throughout the country. He was even invited by the Pope to mediate a tricky theological dispute.

His writings were also well regarded. He wrote a series of letters to a cousin of his, giving her pointers in cultivating a more spiritual life, and these letters were eventually compiled into a bestselling book.

He helped found a new order of nuns, the first of a number of orders that would take their inspiration from him.

St. Francis de Sales, Bishop of Geneva in Switzerland (where Calvin had made his base and had died but a few score of years before), died in his mid-fifties in 1622, was canonized in 1665, and his memory is celebrated on this day.

The orders that look to him as their spiritual father (e.g., the Sisters of the Visitation, the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales) continue to this day. His books are also widely read, especially the one derived from those letters to his cousin: Introduction to the Devout Life.

(from an earlier post)

Monday, January 23, 2006

The strong man

He is ruthless, merciless, sadistic, cunning, and powerful.

He could kill you in a second, but he prefers that his victims linger in endless torture.

He goes by many names.

In today’s Gospel (Mark 3:22-30), he is called Beelzebul, Satan, and the strong man.

He is called the strong man by the Lord Jesus himself in one of the quick parables in today’s Gospel.

But no one can enter a strong man’s house
to plunder his property
unless he first ties up the strong man.
Then he can plunder his house.

Usually we tend to think of those who guard houses as being one of the good guys – and indeed they almost always are – but in this case the strong man is Satan, guarding over his dominion of the world.

Usually we tend to think of tying up guards and taking stuff out of houses as being immoral things to do – and as a rule they are – but in this case the one who binds Satan is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and we are the stuff the Lord is bringing out of the domicile of Satan.

How did we get into that house controlled by Satan? We put ourselves there by sin, but we by ourselves do not have the power to get ourselves out : the power of sin – the power of evil, the power of Satan – is too strong.

But no matter what trouble we may have gotten ourselves into, no matter how persistent and grievous the sin, no matter how dark a hole we may have dug for ourselves, no matter how much the world seems to be against us… the power of our Lord Jesus Christ is infinitely greater and he can bring us out.

Come, Lord Jesus, and set us free
so that we may move forward in you.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Roe vs. Wade

On this anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down laws against abortion, let us remember in prayer those millions of unborn children killed every year.

Let us also pray for those who are tempted to choose abortion, that they may choose the way of life, and for those who have committed it, that they may experience repentance, forgiveness, and healing.

We also need to work, as individual human beings and as citizens, for a world that protects children even in the womb and that takes good care of children, their mothers, and their families.


Today’s readings have a very familiar theme: a call to repentance before it’s too late.

The time is short:

Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed,” says Jonah (Jonah 3:1-5,10);

The kingdom of God is at hand,” says the Lord (Mark 1:14-20);

For the world in its present form is passing away,” says St. Paul (1 Corinthians 7:29-31).

Indeed, we might find ourselves standing before the Lord at any time.

Miserere mei, Domine.

Therefore, if we have any areas of sinfulness to which we have stubbornly clung, now is the time to repent, asking the Lord to give us the grace we need to put these sins behind us.

But what if we are not aware of major sins in our lives? What does this call to repentance mean to us?

Today’s readings give us at least three answers – three ways of continuing and deepening our response to God’s call to repentance: detachment, belief, and discipleship.


The theme of detachment from the world is expressed most poetically in today’s second reading:

I tell you, brothers and sisters,
the time is running out.
From now on,

let those having wives act as not having them,
those weeping as not weeping,
those rejoicing as not rejoicing,
those buying as not owning,
those using the world as not using it fully.
For the world in its present form is passing away.

Even though we may not be grievous sinners, it is very possible that we are emotionally and otherwise over-invested in the things of this world: that our hearts are not really and fully set on the things of heaven.

God calls us to repent, to set our hearts completely on him, and to live in this world without being attached to any of the things of this world.


The theme of belief is tied to the call to repentance in today’s Gospel as closely as anything can be:

Repent, and believe in the gospel, says the Lord.

It is not enough to refrain from evil and to be detached from the things of this world: we must believe – believe in the Lord Jesus and believe his Gospel, his Good News.

The call to repentance is a call to believe more deeply and more fully. How do we do this? By learning more – through Scriptures, the teaching of the Church, and the writings of the Saints – and by opening ourselves to the Lord more and more through prayer and the Sacraments, for none of this is something we do ourselves: all of this is and must be the work of grace.


The theme of discipleship immediately follows the call to repentance in today’s Gospel. In the very next verse, our Lord sees Simon and Andrew and in the verse after that he calls them to discipleship:

Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.

It is not enough simply to believe: we must follow – our faith must be manifested in our lives, not just inside our skulls.

The call to repentance is ultimately a call to discipleship: not just to avoid evil, but to do good; not just to detach from the things of this world, but to make manifest in this world the things of heaven; not just to know and believe the faith, but to proclaim it – in word and in action.





Saturday, January 21, 2006

How are the mighty fallen

and the weapons of war perished!
(2 Samuel 1:27)

Let us continue to pray for those who die in conflicts throughout the world, for those who struggle in the protection of others, and for their loved ones.

May the peace of God, which is beyond all human understanding, fill all hearts in the name of Jesus.

Best friends

One of the silliest things that people say in reaction to today’s first reading (from 2 Samuel 1) is that it proves that David and Jonathan had a homosexual relationship.

How misguided and shallow!

Deep emotional bonds between two people do not necessarily go hand in hand (so to speak) with genital intimacy – and often do not.

David, as was the practice at the time, was a polygamist. He already had more than one wife, would go on to have many wives, and would seduce at least one woman who was someone else’s wife.

Indeed, one of the many problems with polygamy is that it makes it much more likely that one’s “best friend” is not one of one’s spouses: as was the case with David.

But even if one’s spouse is indeed one’s best friend, spouses will have emotional bonds with other friends. These emotional bonds will be different and sometimes, such as when the friends share some past trauma, have a greater intensity in some ways.

The human heart, of course, is notoriously complex, and human willpower can be terribly weak. Vigilance is therefore important: one must not let any emotional bond cause a violation of chastity or harm to one’s life commitment.

Ideally, a married person’s “best friend” should always be one’s spouse. If that is not true, then it is vital for the husband and wife to work on deepening their friendship.

As for those for whom marriage remains yet a possibility in the future, they should always be engaged in discernment regarding friendship, commitment, emotions, and their vocation as a Christian. The same is also true with those for whom neither marriage nor formal celibacy is an option

For all of us as Christians, of course, our truly best friend must be our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

For the celibate, this friendship must be manifested in a unique and powerful way: otherwise celibacy becomes a burden – to the peril of one’s integrity and one’s ministry.

No matter who we are, friendship is a wonderful thing and we need to be careful to live it well.

"A school of charity"

"St Benedict calls the monastery a school of charity. It is here that the seeds of love and desire grow into a new manner of life, centered on Christ, and wholly ordered to contemplation. Our vocation is entirely devoted to the mystery of Christ, discovering the paradoxes of life in a self-emptying that leads to fulfillment, and a self-renunciation that leads to freedom and peace. It is not, however, some 'other worldly' sublimation, but rather occurs within the rough and tumble of ordinary, daily events. Monastic life is real life, but structured according to a special rhythm of prayer, work and spiritual reading (lectio divina). This life continually calls us to conversion, charity, self-knowledge and mindfulness of God. In this milieu, real transformation can occur."

"Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey is a cloistered, monastic community of 30 Trappistine nuns of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance. We are situated on a farm on a high bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, about seven miles from Dubuque, Iowa. Our main means of support is the production and sale of Trappistine Creamy Caramels."

"God has blessed our community with vocations and a call to found a new monastery in Norway. The site of the new foundation is near the Klosterruiner on the island of Tautra, off the peninsula of Frosta, near Trondheim in Central Norway. This Cistercian monks' abbey was founded in 1207 and existed until 1537 during the Protestant Reformation. Thus we are bringing Cistercian life back to a country that has been missing it for a long time."

from the website of Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey and Tautra Mariakloster

Agnes was a little girl

Her faith was pure as snow
And everywhere that Jesus went
Agnes was sure to go.

Christians were being grabbed in the streets or dragged from their homes. Some had their heads cut off. Others weren’t so lucky: they were cruelly tortured before they were killed.

The ones who were left found comfort in their faith and in the grace of Christ. They also told each other about the heroism of those who had already died for the faith.

Many talked about a little girl named Agnes, whose name meant “lamb.”

The brutes had taken her too, but she refused to give up her faith, so they killed her.

If that little girl could be so brave for Christ, they told each other, we can be too.

Agnes’ name would be remembered every time they gathered and, seventeen hundred years later, Agnes’ name is still included in the Roman Canon, the first Eucharistic Prayer.

St. Agnes is especially remembered every year on this day.

(In Rome on this day every year there is a special blessing of lambs. Wool from these lambs is later made into ceremonial cloths [pallia or palliums] that is placed by the tomb of St. Peter and then worn by archbishops throughout the world.)

(repeated from an earlier post)

Friday, January 20, 2006

Find the bad man’s cave and kill him

In today’s first reading (1 Samuel 24:3-21), the hero finds himself in a dark cave somewhere in the Middle East confronting the man intent on killing him.

The opportunity is literally a godsend.

The hero lets the opportunity pass by, because he knows it is not God’s will that he should take advantage of this apparent godsend.

The story of David and Saul in the cave is an important reminder to us not to leap at every opportunity that seems heaven-sent but may actually be a temptation to evil.

Proper discernment is always necessary,
especially when fortune appears to smile on us.

How Fabian was discovered

He was a farmer on a visit to the big city. He decided to join the crowd at a huge event that was going on at the time.

That’s what he was doing, completely unnoticed and minding his own business in a large public room, when a bird flew in the window and perched on his head.

Everyone suddenly turned and looked at Fabian and the white dove sitting on him.

It’s a sign! they said. The Holy Spirit has chosen this man to be the next Pope!

Despite his rustic background and the unusual way he was chosen, Fabian turned out to be a fairly good Bishop of Rome: ministering to the people, improving Church administration, sending out missionaries, and dealing with heresies – all in a time of relative peace for the Church.

That peace would end too soon and St. Fabian was martyred in the year 250 A.D. His memory is celebrated on this day.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Close but not too close

There is a scene in the rather profane movie "Jesus Christ Superstar" where the actor playing Christ is literally buried by a crowd of people wanting to be healed.

In reality, as described in today’s Holy Gospel (Mark 3:7-12), our Lord was careful to avoid such a problem, even to the point of using a boat to protect himself from the crowd.

Likewise, it is important for each of us to keep a prudent but faithful balance as we seek to pass on God’s love and truth to others.

The work of Christ’s love inevitably involves closeness: a standoffish Christian is usually not an effective Christian.

(That is not to say that we all have to be gregarious extroverts: the example of the current Holy Father is helpful – a shy intellectual with a German accent who quietly yet powerfully brings the truth and love of Christ to millions.)

But we must also be prudent: careful not to be overwhelmed or crushed by the number or intensity of heartaches that need what grace and faith have given us, careful not to confuse our hearts while we keep them open, careful not to be bound to this world even as we work with others for the good of all.

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ reached out with love, grace, and power to all – even as he took care and maintained limits.

So must we be as we go among his people and out into the world – close but not too close – in the footsteps and in the name of Jesus.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Why David won

The story of David and Goliath, recounted in today’s first reading (from 1 Samuel 17), has become a clichéd metaphor of mismatched opponents and the triumph of the underdog.

Statistically, of course, underdogs usually lose: most “Davids” are crushed by “Goliaths” and never see the light of day.

But in this case, David won and Goliath lost. Why?

It wasn’t just because of David’s agility or his clever technology or Goliath’s arrogant misreading of the threat. David himself gives the answer:

You come against me
with sword and spear and scimitar,
but I come against you

in the name of the LORD of hosts,
the God of the armies of Israel

that you have insulted.

Arrogance is dangerous, technology is cool, and agility is good, but the most powerful weapons and the most powerful defense come from faith.

As we deal with all the many challenges in our own lives, we do well to be equipped as David was: with faith, by grace, in the name of the Lord.

Christian Carnival

This week's Christian Carnival - an ecumenical collection of posts from various Christian blogs - is online at Dunmoose the Ageless.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

What it was made for

In today’s Gospel (Mark 2:23-28), our Lord makes this simple statement:

The Sabbath was made for man,
and not man for the Sabbath.

The Pharisees and other authorities had twisted around the original meaning of the Sabbath, obscuring a fundamental purpose for which the Sabbath had been made – even to the detriment of that very purpose.

This twisting of purposes is very common: the history of humanity is full of things created in goodness being twisted to evil. Indeed, the twisting often seems to be getting worse.

(Ironically, today - on the very day of this reading - U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia issued these words:

If the term ‘legitimate medical purpose’ has any meaning, it surely excludes the prescription of drugs to produce death.” (emphasis in original)

Unfortunately, on the very day of this reading, the
majority of the Court did the twist, solemnly pronounced the term ‘legitimate medical purpose’ as ‘ambiguous’ and opened the door wider for state-sponsored suicide.)

There are many things that were created with clear and good purposes that people today twist to their own selfish and ultimately destructive ends.

But our Lord’s words are not just about “hot button topics” of modern politics and morality.

Our Lord’s words invite us to a ressourcement – a ‘return to the source’: to look beneath the accumulation of cogitation, accommodation and rationalization we may have piled over the simplest things – too often for our own selfish purposes – and to look for God’s purpose.

What was this made for?

What was and is God’s purpose?

How can we be more faithful to the loving, omniscient Creator of all things?

This is the invitation and the challenge set before us by his Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, through whom all things were made.

The world changed

The world changed for Anthony when he was around 20 years old. His parents died and it made him think very seriously about what he wanted to do with his life.

He decided to sell everything he had and to give the proceeds to the poor (after making sure that his younger sister would be educated and cared for). He eventually went out into the desert by himself, found shelter in some ruins, and devoted himself entirely to prayer and solitude.

And then the world changed – and not just for Anthony.

The government in that part of the world had been persecuting people who dared to show their Christian faith in public, imprisoning many and even executing them. There were many zealous young men who wanted to go "all the way" for the faith and these were the ones often executed and later celebrated as martyrs.

Then there was a tremendous change in the government and it was no longer dangerous to be known as a Christian. Zealous young men sought new ways to go "all the way" for the faith. Many of them came to hear about the radical Christian lifestyle that Anthony was pursuing in the desert and sought to imitate him in his imitation of Christ.

St. Anthony of Egypt came to be known as the Father of Monasticism. He died at the age of 105 in the year 356 and his memory is celebrated on this day.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Monday, January 16, 2006

God said WHAT?

One of the key elements of today’s first reading (1 Samuel 15:16-23) is probably very disturbing to most of us: that the Lord appears to have commanded genocide – the extermination of the Amalekite people.

The command was quite explicit in an earlier verse (v. 3) of this chapter:

Go, now, attack Amalek,
and deal with him and all that he has under the ban.
Do not spare him,
but kill men and women, children and infants,
oxen and sheep, camels and asses.

Many scholars attribute the severity of this command to purely human influences (a conscious and/or unconscious “spin” on God’s revelation by Samuel and the people of Israel).

Massacres of this sort were not uncommon in the ancient world nor are they unknown today: extreme acts of horrific deterrence (“Mess with us and we’ll not only kill you but your women and children as well”).

For their part, the people of Israel – carrying the unique message of God’s presence in the world – had been living a precarious existence, threatened and subjugated by alien armies and cultures on every side. Extreme measures of self-preservation were sometimes the only option. (We should consider ourselves greatly blessed that the need for such terrible actions is as far away from us as it is.)

But while such horrific massacres may not have been unusual in that time and place, there was something unusual about this particular campaign of obliteration: Saul was commanded to destroy even the livestock of the enemy – usually taken as spoils of war to feed the victors’ own people.

There was to be no profit from this horrific act of self-preservation. No one would be able to say that this had really been a war about oil (from the fat of calves and rams).

The destruction of the livestock is also about holiness. The people of Israel were to be holy - specially dedicated to the Lord and distinct from other people and cultures – not even sharing their livestock (which had an important role in the sacrificial rituals of Jews and pagans alike).

Indeed, Saul’s offense is primarily holding onto that economically valuable livestock (v. 9b).

They refused to carry out the doom
on anything that was worthwhile,
dooming only what was worthless and of no account.

Saul gives the excuse that he was going to sacrifice these animals to the Lord, but Samuel shoots that answer down contemptuously.

Does the LORD so delight
in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as in obedience to the command of the LORD?

Obedience is better than sacrifice,
and submission than the fat of rams.

For a sin like divination is rebellion,
and presumption is the crime of idolatry.

These verses are key: both to this horrific passage and to our own lives.

First, obedience to the will of God has absolute primacy over any other aspect of religion: no amount of pious feeling or actual sacrifice comes close.

Second, we need to be very careful about conflating our personal perspective with the will of God that is to be obeyed (presumption is the crime of idolatry).

It is easy for people to take Scripture out of context or to construct elegant syllogisms that overextend the substance of their premises.

It is also very, very easy to rationalize and to baptize our selfish interests as the mind of God.

Discernment of the will of God is no merely intellectual exercise nor is it always easy, but it is absolutely necessary.

We must pray and listen. We must discern. We must obey in love. And we must act.

Lead me, O God, and make me follow.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Make your body happy

We hear all the time about things we can do with our bodies: things that will make us healthy, things that will make us attractive, things that will make us happy.

We only learn too late that most of these things are scams or – at best – insufficient, even if they “work.”

We may get a healthy body, but we will still die.

We may become more physically attractive, but still feel emptiness inside.

We may experience pleasure, but it passes - and true happiness eludes us.

Our bodies are much more than simple mechanical devices. Our bodies are much more than means to an end.

In today’s second reading (1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20), St. Paul tells us that our bodies have a purpose and a meaning that goes beyond what most people realize.

Our bodies are for the Lord.

Our bodies are members of Christ.

Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.

We need to be attentive to what we do in our bodies, to our bodies, and with our bodies.

In our bodies, we are to glorify the Lord.

In our bodies, we are to give witness to the Lord.

In our bodies, we are to serve the Lord.

In our bodies, we are to be holy.

Then we will be truly happy.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The tall hero and the shady operator

Today’s readings describe God’s call of two very different people who would follow very different paths.

In the first reading (excerpted mostly from 1 Samuel 9), a tall and handsome man named Saul is anointed to be the first King of Israel.

In the Gospel (Mark 2:13-17), our Lord calls a reviled customs official named Levi to be one of his disciples.

Saul would go on to stray from the Lord and would die in defeat by his own hand.

Levi, also known as Matthew, would go on to become one of the Twelve Apostles, a foundation stone of the Church.

It is a reminder for us not to judge by appearances, nor to let anything keep us as individuals from striving to be instruments of God’s grace.

Whether we have many admirable qualities or many regrettable weaknesses (miserere mei, Domine) or a mix of both, it is God’s grace that purifies us and makes us successful in the things that really matter.

Let us be strong in Him and serve Him well.

Diocesan Priesthood

The Diocesan Priest is dedicated to the immediate priestly service of the People of God in a specific geographic area: i.e., a Diocese.
Nearly all Diocesan Priests are engaged in parochial ministry or otherwise assisting the Bishop in the work of shepherding.

Men who feel called to the priesthood , but not to a religious order, and are free to respond should generally contact their own parish priest or the Vocation Director of their own Diocese.

Some young men may also be interested in serving a Diocese where they have not yet taken up residence (many Dioceses welcome such inquiries - Dioceses, of course, will insist on prudent measures to verify the suitability of any man for seminary studies and the priestly ministry).

The following are links to vocation websites for a handful (chosen partly at random) of the thousands of Dioceses throughout the United States and the world:


Arlington, Virginia

Links to the Vocations pages of many US Dioceses can be found at

Happy National Vocation Awareness Week!
(adapted from an earlier post)

Friday, January 13, 2006

Saint Hilary

Everyone knows about Hilary’s spouse, of course.

Everyone also knows about Hilary’s many enemies, most of them men - including the most powerful man in the world.

People were upset when Hilary was ordained a bishop.

Of course, things were a bit different in the fourth century A.D. and Hilary’s wife didn’t cause much of a stir (although the Arians against whom Hilary fought did).

Saint Hilary, Doctor of the Church and bishop of his native city of Poitiers, died there of natural causes on this very day in the year 368.

(adapted from an earlier post)

It’s not you: it’s me

Today’s first reading (1 Samuel 8:4-7,10-22a) brings us to the turning point between the era of the Judges in ancient Israel and the era of the Kings.

It also brings us a line that sounds very much like a Seinfeld episode, as the Lord says to Samuel:

It is not you they reject,
they are rejecting me as their king.

Indeed, very much like the classic line: It’s not you: it’s me.

Unlike the usual use of this line on Seinfeld and elsewhere, the Lord obviously is not breaking up with Samuel.

However, the Lord is making here at least two important points that are also relevant for our own lives.

Although none of us have the same lofty position and responsibility as Samuel did, each of us in our own lives are called to give witness to Lord and to his Truth.

As we know well, of course, not everyone accepts the Lord or his Truth. Indeed, some are openly hostile.

But the Lord tells Samuel – and he tells us – “It is not you they reject, they are rejecting me...

It is a reminder that we should not take rejection of God’s message personally.

There is also a second important point in what the Lord says: “ they are rejecting me as their king.”

Ultimately, the rejection of God’s message is a rejection of God’s lordship in order to embrace another master: either popular conformity ("we too must be like other nations"), some manmade ideology, or one’s own selfishness under the guise of “autonomy” and “freedom.”

Eternal life and true fulfillment cannot be found in the whims of culture, the concoctions of gurus, or selfishness. Eternal life and true fulfillment can only come from what is real, what is universal, what is eternal: in short, it can only come from God through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

This is our message and we are proud to profess it, even if it will sometimes be rejected.

It’s not about us: it’s about God.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Superstition will not save you

In the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark an aged professor solemnly declares that "An Army that carries the Ark before it... is invincible."

Obviously, the venerable professor (or more likely the talented but fallible screenwriter) never read today’s first reading (1 Samuel 4:1-11).

The scene presented by this reading would readily lend itself to cinematic spectacle: a cast of thousands in colorful battle array, the Israelites the classic heroes on the edge of defeat against the classic Philistine villains, the Ark of the Covenant brought forward with swirling incense and gleaming gold, the Israelites cheering like an earthquake and the Philistines cowering as the great climactic battle begins.

And then the Israelites lose.

What is worse, the sacred Ark is captured and carried away with the other spoils of war.

What happened? The people of Israel in that battle were being led by the despicable sons of Eli, young men who wallowed in theft, debauchery, and sacrilege.

Even at this moment of crisis, however, they chose not repentance but superstition: using the Ark of the Covenant as if it were a magic talisman.

Superstition operates only on the level of externals. True faith and true religion goes to and comes from the heart.

Superstition is focused on tangible outcomes. True faith and religion focuses on a relationship that is to extend through eternity: a personal relationship with God.

Superstition is a common human impulse, often associated with religion, but not exclusively (if I only wear black this week, my favorite sports team will win their next game).

Statistically, superstition will always eventually fail.

Only true faith and religion – by the grace of God in our Lord Jesus Christ – can save any of us in the long run, especially in the eternally long run.

As little children, it was especially easy to think of religion in superstitious ways. Sadly, some of us never totally grew out of that mindset: some who still practice their religion and some who have rejected all religion.

When I was a child,
I used to talk as a child,
think as a child,
reason as a child;
when I became a man,
I put aside childish things.
(1 Corinthians 13:11)

Sacred objects and sacred places are not magic things: they are to point us to God and to affirm the truth of God’s action in our world, all to help build up our relationship with God in faith by his grace.

It is important to stay out of the trap of superstition – both real superstition and the slander that all faith is superstition – and to grow by grace through true interior faith and true exterior religion together into the fullness of our eternal relationship with God.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

For those who are very, very serious

about prayer
and about being alone with God
for the love of Christ and of the whole Church
there are few paths more magnificent
than that of the Carthusians:
monasteries of men and monasteries of women
tucked away in different corners of the world,
from France to Vermont,
from Brasil to Korea.

The Carthusians live lives of intense simplicity and even more intense prayer.

"Who is called to a life such as this? The vocation so centers in God and is directed by Him and for Him that the choice cannot possibly come from man. The hermit cannot progress along this often perplexing path unless God wishes it and calls the person to it, and gives him the graces for it.....

"A candidate needs fairly good, though not exceptional, physical health to sustain the rigors of the vocation. In particular, given the more intense stresses of solitude, a candidate must be free of any serious emotional and psychological pathology; indeed even lesser degrees of trauma can prove an obstacle. The common practice is, therefore, to have candidates take psychological testing before admittance into the community.

"The Carthusian life requires significant human maturity and sound judgment. The Statutes allow no one under 20 to be admitted, and in fact, given the delayed maturity in the West today, a person does not enter before he is 23. Since adaptability to such a life becomes increasingly difficult after mid-life, the upper age limit is 45, though candidates over 40 are not often considered.

"A reposed, open and sociable character is very desirable. In addition, cloister candidates are asked to have some knowledge of Latin and a liberal arts background if at all possible, with at least two years of college. The brothers are encouraged to have a high school education or the equivalent.

"Once the applicant has contacted the community, the Charterhouse sends a questionnaire concerning personal information and references. If the Superiors discover there is sufficient possibility of a vocation, they invite him to make a retreat of at least a month’s duration (if possible) at the monastery. During his retreat, he is gradually introduced to the Carthusian life and encouraged to participate as fully as his capacity permits. If at its end, the applicant remains convinced of his calling and wishes to take the next step, and if the Superiors, with the assistance of the grace of God, validate his discernment, then together they decide when he should enter the novitiate. Once admitted, the candidate becomes an aspirant for a period of about six months.... During this period, it is discerned whether he should proceed to the state of novice where he becomes a member of the community.... He remains in this state for two years. If he remains firm in the conviction of his calling, the candidate may be allowed to take the vows of stability, obedience and conversion of life (in which are implicitly included chastity and poverty) for three years..... At the end of this first term, he renews his vows for two additional years. After this second term, he leaves the novitiate and the supervision of the Novice Master to live among the solemn professed and perpetual donates where he slowly forms himself to the maturity of a solitary. If assurances appear that he is called to and capable of the Carthusian life, the monk makes his final and solemn profession."

(text from the Charterhouse of the Transifguration, Vermont USA)

Please see the Carthusians' excellent site for more information and for the locations of the Charterhouses throughout the world: www.chartreux.org

Prayer in the night

Prayer in the middle of the night lies at the center of both of today’s familiar, beautiful readings.

In the first reading (1 Samuel 3:1-10, 19-20), Samuel – sleeping in the temple by the Ark of God – hears the Lord’s call in the middle of the night and eventually learns to respond with one of the most perfect short prayers ever:

Speak, for your servant is listening.

In the Gospel (Mark 1:29-30), after a busy day and night at the very beginning of his public ministry, our Lord himself rises before dawn to be alone with God in prayer.

These readings invite us to take a minute or two ourselves – either at the end of our busy days or at the very beginning or both – and reach out to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the silence of the night and say with real commitment:

Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Signs of a Vocation to Religious Life?

Sister Mary Andrea of the Incarnate Word became a Novice on October 20, 2005"First Sign: Desire
If God is truly calling you, He gives you a certain attraction, a certain positive inclination toward the life.

"Second Sign: Right Motivation
To want to dedicate your life to the service of God and His people. To want to live the gospel of Christ as fully as possible. To want to share a common vision of faith and spirituality with a community of like-minded people. Spiritual, Religious Reasons!

"Third Sign: Fitness
Do you have the ability to live the life as it should be lived, that is, cheerfully and generously? Somehow the life itself must suit you and you must suit the life. There should be a ‘meshing’ of your personality with the requirements of religious life. "

"We witness to timeless values and to the primacy of God amid the breathtaking pace and noise of the changing world. We are Cloistered Contemplative Nuns dedicated to the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ through a universal ministry of prayer."

from the website of the Passionist Nuns
St. Joseph Monastery, Whitesville, KY

Happy National Vocations Awareness Day!